Oscar Night

February 28, 2011

Faced with the equally depressing topics of Stephen Harper and the emerald ash borer, instead of writing this column on Sunday night I sat down and watched the 83rd Academy Awards show, commercials and all.

I had seen quite a few of the films this year, and Anne Hathaway is great fun to watch, so it was worth a try.

What follows is a set of notes from the evening:

I’m glad to see The Social Network up for the screenplay award. The strongest impression I have after a year of movie-watching has to be the first scene of this film. Two characters rip through pages and pages of dialogue in an argument in a pub. The blistering pace of the delivery and the sheer intelligence of the scene warn the reader that this film will be something special.

Inception’s main appeal to me was Ellen Page. I was curious to see what she would do in the sci-fi genre. It turned out to be quite the film, though the awards went to the technicians who set up the fantastic urban bombing scenes. As one of my students once commented in a newspaper article, there is a beatific quality to destruction which Hollywood film-makers have mastered.

Unstoppable was a pretty exciting action flick with its runaway train through Southern Pennsylvania, but Inception deserved its awards.

The King’s Speech did very well, causing a goodly amount of self-congratulation on the podium for the success of a non-commercial, historical film. I regretted not yet having seen the film, so I don’t know how much of its success this night was belated colonialism and how much actual quality.

Anne Hathaway is just so much fun on a T.V. screen. I discovered this while watching Love and Other Drugs and YouTube interviews with Jake Gyllenhaal promoting the film. There seems to be a lot going on behind those spaniel eyes and over-sized teeth. If she were a puppy she’d be the pick of the litter.

Of course on an evening like this unique television mixes with the same tired old commercials, so we’re seeing Ram trucks, Stephen Harper, Gwen Stephani, and Beyonce’s glittering eyeshadow mixed at random with the best the North American culture can offer.

Helen Mirren has the knack of making every actor around her a good deal better. Put her behind a machine gun and a ho-hum action flick takes on an edge. Even a drip like Russell Brand gains some class when onstage with Mirren.

And then along comes Chuck, Zack Levi, singing a duet with Mandy Moore. By comparison Gwyneth Paltrow is Celine Dion – who incidentally performed a fine understated number while obituary photos flashed on the screen. Celine certainly can sing.

Now here’s a pungent attack ad directed at Michael Ignatieff. I can tolerate selling Stephen Harper with an ad put together with the same glitz and sincerity as a L’Oréal facial cream commercial, but this dark-toned frontal attack on a man’s character is just plain low. It’s not Canadian.

The maker of the documentary Inside Job about the recent financial crisis just got off a great quote: “It’s been three years since a horrific crisis caused by massive fraud, but not a single financial executive has gone to jail.”

The Economic Action Plan commercials are extremely well made in comparison with other film segments run this evening. I wonder where they were made, by whom, and at what cost?

So far the Kia Sportage ad has had the best sound mixing and editing of the evening.

The unequal talents of Franco and Hathaway are carrying the evening along. Franco tries to be stern – Hathaway giggles. Her best aside has to be when she seems to notice the current gown has a lot of long things hanging from it, so she shakes like a wet spaniel, then quips, “Personal moment!”

The commercials go together to create a set of images, which as viewers we absorb uncritically into our subconscious. So Red Bull gives you wings. Stephen Harper is doing a good job, and you’re richer than you think.

A series of commercials from the Ontario lobby group Working Families shows dramatically why it would be folly to run a federal election campaign during a provincial election cycle. The “Because they’re worth fighting for” message was deeply confusing in the context of the earlier federal government ads. The federal Conservatives and the provincial Liberals both seem to be trying to harness the knee-jerk resistance to change of the T.V. viewer. This will be tricky if the numbed voter can’t tell one from the other.

Natalie Portman had to win best actress for Black Swan. Otherwise I would have sat through the agonizing chick-flick to no purpose. She delivered a very classy acceptance speech, though.

Colin Firth got off a good line as he accepted the best actor award for The King’s Speech: “Got a feeling my career just peaked.”

Then at the end, they brought on a New York City grade 6 class to sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” while the Oscar winners assembled at the rear of the stage. The spectacle worked, giving some truth to the notion that millions of You-Tube viewers can’t be wrong.

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